By Jose Catalan
I’m a high school ALT in Imabari, Ehime and I’ve been here for almost four years. I know many of you have different schools you go to, but I am one of the lucky ones. I only have one school because my school is not an ordinary high school. It’s a secondary school. There are few secondary schools in Ehime so when I first got here, I didn’t know what that was. Let me explain what that means.
A secondary school is a Junior High School (JHS) and Senior High School (SHS) in one. Imabari Higashi wasn’t always a secondary school. At first, it was a normal Senior High School for many years. In 2006, the governor at that time decided to make Imabari Higashi SHS into Imabari Higashi Chutokyoiku HS (Imatou). Since it is now a JHS and SHS and we have six grades. We refer to JHS classes as 1年-３年 and to SHS as 4年-6年 . If you ever hear me talking about 4年生, I am talking about high school 1年生. Trust me, it took me a while to get used to the grading system.
I am considered a SHS ALT, but I also teach JHS. Basically, I teach all the grades. One difference you can see is that although the uniforms are very similar they have slight differences. For junior high, the buttons on the blazer are silver and the girls wear a sweater vest. For high school, the buttons are gold and the girls wear a regular vest.
First, I want to mention my school`s mascots. The mascots are the East Rangers!! There are four of them each with a different color – green, red, yellow and blue and each color has a meaning. These are the same colors used for sports day and group matches. The green ranger represents young grass (our students). The red represents the sunset and the clouds. The yellow represents the light from the east. Finally, the blue represents the whirlpools in the Inland Seto Sea. I never knew that our mascots had these meanings. I think that is めっちゃ cool!
Now, let me explain how my school works. If an elementary student wants to come to Imabari Higashi for JHS, they have to pass an entrance exam. If they want to stay for high school too, they don’t have to take a test. The can just automatically become a high school student. This is known as the escalator style (エスカレーターしき).The same goes for JHS students. If they want to come to Higashi for high school, they are required to take a test. Now, what happens if an Imabari Higashi JHS student wants to go to another high school? The student will have to take the entrance exam for that high school. It kind of stinks because the student has to take two entrance exams. If a student takes an entrance exam for another high school, they cannot attend our high school if they don’t pass the entrance exam.
Having to go to only one school as an ALT may seem cool but it has its ups and downs. I know it is rough for some ALTs because they have many schools so it is harder for them to build relationships with their students. I go to the same school five times a week so I work with the same people and teach the same students. I know my coworkers and students pretty well. I have a great relationship with my coworkers. They treat me like I’m part of the family. Because I teach all the grades, I get invited to each grade’s drinking parties. During test week, the high schools teachers have a sports tournament and they all ask me to participate. In the past, I have done tennis, badminton, and soft ball. What I like the most is that I get to see my students every day. At first many of them were really shy to talk to me, but since I’ve been here for three years, they aren’t afraid to talk to me anymore.
Another good thing is that I can have school lunch with my junior high school students. Technically, we are high school teachers and don’t eat school lunch. At first I didn’t, but I asked my school and they said yes. Now, I have an assigned homeroom where I eat my school lunch. Sometimes, I do go to other homerooms because the students get jealous. However there is a down side. Because I teach all the grades, I’m very busy. Most high school ALTs have about 2-3 classes a day, but for me, I have 4-6 classes a day. Often, I have them one after another and my only break is lunch. By the end of the day, I am completely drained. At least it makes the time go by faster. Don’t get me started on test week. It’s hell! I have to grade the writing section for 2年－5年. Sometimes, I have to work at home. But I’m loving every minute of it.
I believe it was my destiny that this school chose me as their ALT. One of my favorite sports is soccer. I grew up playing and watching soccer. Higashi`s soccer team is a “beast”. We are one of the best teams in Toyo, or I could say we are the kings of Toyo. We have played in many tournaments. One was the Shikoku league, where the best teams in Shikoku battle it out to become the kings of Shikoku. Sometimes the soccer team has games in Korea. It’s not just soccer, but our naginata, handball, archery teams are really strong. This year our hand ball and naginata teams are the champions of Ehime and will go to Okinawa for the inter high. As the awesome ALT I am, I like to go to see my student’s matches. I love cheering for them and it makes our relationships even stronger. Trust me, our relationship wasn’t always the best, but by going to their games, I was able to create a better relationship with my students.
Most ALTs have about the same responsibilities, but because of the kind of school I’m at, I have to do a little more. Every year, there are school events. In January, we have Higashi’s English speech contest. This contest is only for the 2年生 and 3年生. I practice with one student from each homeroom to improve their speech. In addition, I do a model speech every year. The winner will go to Matsuyama for another speech contest and I’ll practice with them again before that. In fall, I have two mandatory English lessons for elementary students. The biggest one is our English camp. With this event, I have to do a lot more. I make warm up activities, produce the schedule with my supervisor, and much more. During the camp, I am the moderator and make sure everything is running smoothly.
This is my awesome school. It may not be perfect, but I do love it with all my heart. Like I said, it was destiny for me to be here. When I really do think about it, saying good bye to Higashi will be very difficult, but I shouldn’t think about it now. I have two more years left and I will make it count. I am happy to say that I will be able to see two of my favorite grades graduate. The rewarding part of being a teacher is watching your students succeed.
Jose is a third year ALT in Imabari. His major at university was international business, and he came to Japan to experience living abroad. He enjoys playing Pokemon Go, watching movies, dramas and anime, and dancing.
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